When you look through a pair of binoculars, you can’t just put them up against your face and expect to see things clearly. True, you may be able to see something, but the image is usually obscured. By dialing the focus wheel, things come into perspective. This often holds true when studying Torah. Sometimes we need the complete context to process what we read in Scripture. For instance, by not understanding Egypt, there are many things in the Torah narrative that come across as disjointed (Genesis 41:37-57, 47:13-31). For example, putting a foreigner over your government (Genesis 41:40)? And how did God allow Egypt to thrive in a worldwide famine? The answers are on the pages of Torah. Come let us delve into the Torah while using the contextual history as our backdrop and give Joseph’s story its deserved dimension.
Prosperity in the face of Travesty:
Firstly, the term Pharaoh, which means “Great House”, came into existence around 1570 BCE, after Joseph and before Moses. During Joseph’s time, the Pharaoh would have been called King1. This King, would have been Senusret III. Senusret III reigned during Egypt’s golden age where the country experience great economic wealth. Paradoxically, here we have a King who is an economic icon during a 7-year famine. Now this 7-year famine wasn’t just in the middle east, history records it as being worldwide 2. For us, as Believers, we can credit the Abrahamic covenant as the blessings that befell Egypt (Genesis 12:3) during this time of deprivation. As the King says about Joseph “Can we find anyone else like him? The Spirit of God lives in him!” (Genesis 41:38) and then he gave Joseph control. However, how easy is it for the king to relinquish control to an outsider?
Interestingly, Egypt was purposefully divided into parts by the King for the design of management. This would be like states or provinces. Each territory had a “vizier” assigned to it that managed that area. The vizier was second in command to the King. He was like a governor. Genesis 41:40 seems to imply that Joseph was made a vizier (governor). However, the King says that Joseph will command “all the land” (Genesis 41:41). Since Egypt was divided into at least two parts: Lower Egypt which is to the North and Upper Egypt to the South, it is possible that the King may have meant that Joseph would command Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt was the more significant half because it possessed Memphis the capitol. Likewise, with Joseph controlling the capital he might have had a significant influence on the other half of Egypt. Additionally, Goshen where Joseph’s family lived, was in Lower Egypt. Alcohological findings now points to a Palace belonging to an Egyptian Official living in Goshen amongst the Semitics3. More than likely this is Joseph.
Establishing the mantle of leadership:
In Egyptian royalty a technique was adopted to help rule over the people. It was called “Shemsu Hor”. Basically, this was the king and his entourage parading through Egypt making the king’s presence and power known to his subjects. The ulterior motive for this was that the King was also assessing these areas for taxes. Therefore, in Genesis 41:43, almost immediately after promoting Joseph, the King “had him ride in his second-best chariot; and they cried before him, “Bow down!” Thus, he placed him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”. This would not have only have been an Egyptian costume showing that a new ruler was in power, in addition it allowed Joseph to assess the area before the famines he predicted.
Egyptian Society Progresses:
As we read on, the famine got so bad that the people gave up everything, finally giving themselves into slavery (Genesis 47:19-21). As Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste”4 and so Joseph and the Egyptian government capitalized on the moment. They secured all private property, turning around and issued seed to the people (Genesis 47:23). They did this under the condition that the people would give 20% of their crops to the government (Genesis 47:26). This is interestingly when we examine Egypt as an agrarian (farming) society. You see, each community in Egypt was broken down into smaller communities called Nomes. This would be like our modern-day cities and towns. The peasants would work the land and give their proceeds to the head of their Nome. This person was the land owner and was called a Nomarch. History records that during the reign of King Senusret III, the Nomarchs were eliminated. Likewise, during his reign, we see the development of a middle class. Here, the history books appear stumped. Yet, we look at the Torah we see the truth. Simply said, Joseph cut out the middle man, this is because the need for Nomarchs was eliminated when the King owned all the land directly. Likewise, with the peasants now serving the government directly and having fair taxation, a thriving middle class would have been developed. Yes, 20% taxation does sound extreme, but today’s average American, between Federal and State taxes, pays more.
Interestingly, around this time, the King instituted a police force 2 to assist in him enforcing the law. With recorded famines and possible upheaval, the police force may have been necessary. Likewise, it would have been beneficial because now Egypt no longer had middle managers (Nomarchs) to control the people.
Sadly, there are many publications out there that dismiss the Israelites as being in Egypt between the 18th and 14th century BCE. Likewise, our ancient history books have anomalies that cannot explain away simple facts like “How did Egypt thrive during a worldwide famine?”, “What happen to Egypt’s Landowners (Nomarchs)?” and “How did an emerging middle-class end up in Egypt during all of this?”. Through God, these answers are simple. Like a missing puzzle piece, the Torah “snaps!” in and the picture is complete.
- Mark, Joshua J. “Ancient Egyptian Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. October 13, 2016. Accessed December 30, 2017. https://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Government/.
- “In Search of Truth.” Joseph’s 7 Year Famine Has Now Been Verified! – In Search of Truth. January 22, 2013. Accessed December 30, 2017. http://forums.insearchoftruth.org/viewtopic.php?t=3765.
- McCall, Thomas S. “Has Joseph’s Tomb Been Found in Egypt?” Zola Levitt Ministries. July 1999. Accessed December 31, 2017. https://www.levitt.com/essays/joseph.
- Finley, Allysia. “Republicans Won’t Let Chicago’s School Crisis Go to Waste.” The Wall Street Journal. August 25, 2017. Accessed December 30, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/republicans-wont-let-chicagos-school-crisis-go-to-waste-1503701116.